I still vividly remember this day. Maybe because it has been engraved in my memory. We had been told by our driver, rather warned the night before, to leave for Pangong a little early as a river on our way(can’t remember the name) starts flowing and disrupts the traffic to Pangong, halting the cars in their way as they are unable to move past a particular stop in case that happens.
On the morning of 19th July, 2018, we left around 9ish which wasn’t early according to the driver’s terms. When asked, what now? He gave the most optimistic reply ever, “Ab jaana toh hai, toh jaayenge. Dekhte hai kya hota hai.” We started our voyage, and what a voyage! An extremely bumpy, rough and roadless route! Yes, roadless. When I say roadless, I actually mean none of us could see the road ahead. Our car, Innova, was moving like it was placed on the rails of some roller-coaster ride. And I am not exaggerating a bit. Rather understating our overall experience.
Unable to see the road ahead for miles, and after murmuring our concerns and queries amongst ourselves, we finally mustered some strength to voice out our questions, risking our intellect and prepping ourselves to look and sound stupid to the only person who was confidently shimmying through the rutted terrain, like he knew his shit well, ‘Yahan toh road dikh bhi nahi raha. Fir aapko kaise samajh raha hai ke kaha se jaana hai?”
The answer we received made us stare aghast at each other for a moment before it left us all in splits. “Raasta kyun chahiye? Ye do pahad dikh rahe hai unke bich mein se jaana hai. Bass. Isme raaste ka kya hi kaam.”
And we realised we aren’t just stupid but even ignorant about a lot of things that happen around the world, around us. This dawned upon us that, being privileged has knowing or unknowingly barred us from the true privileges of life.
As we moved on bumping, banging and bouncing our heads against the roof we finally passed the roadless route and were connected to a proper road(which too was bumpy though). We passed a lot of iron and wooden bridges, even viaducts if I’m not mistaken, gliding our way through small streams, that flowed right across our paths and made us feel like an intruder who was getting in their way, in their course.
Halfway there, we crossed a wider stream just rustling its way through rocks, pebbles and stones, flowing like it had to reach somewhere, just like we did. Midway through we were famished. Hence, we decided to pull over to a local joint and feed our hunger. It was too windy and we literally had to zip up our jackets to stop them from being carried away by the wind. We entered the space and ordered the regular Maggi(staple food of Leh-Ladakh). We wanted to order parathas which were present on the menu but were unavailable in the kitchen. So, we settled on coffee, tea, and biscuits and devoured our meals.
Traversing the mountain passes, we crossed a lot of literatim breathtaking views (this is an understatement) that made us go almost breathless – pun intended, we were at approximately 16000ft altitude, we were so awestruck that we didn’t talk to each other as we all were lost, in our own depths, diving deeper into ourselves, wondering what were we doing with our lives, in the cities, hustling through our routines, where time governed us, and here we were where even the time seemed to have halted and was lying helplessly at the mercy of these majestic mountains, tall passes, eternal rivers, spectacular valleys and barren lands.
Yes, the lands here are mostly barren but oh, so beautifully barren. Leh-Ladakh is a perfect example that even barren can be beautiful if it makes up its mind to it.
And yes… We were zoning out, big time!
As we approached our destination for the day, we caught glimpses of the Pangong Lake and it was just like a frame from some dream. I’m sure this is how Paradise looks like. We couldn’t wait to breathe, absorb every bit of this magnificent beauty and headed right towards our accommodation for the night. On our way our chauffeur showed us the place, from the top as we drove, where 3-idiots’ last scene was filmed. When asked if we were going down there, he told us it is better to avoid going there as it will be crowded at this time and we won’t be able to soak in the true serenity of the scene with the swarm around. Instead, he promised to take us to an even better location and we just chose to trust him.
We reached Pangong and checked into our rooms which were more like cabins (check the picture) and one(the one in the picture with me) amongst us named Rohini literally screamed looking at them, ‘hey tar toilets saarkhe distaat aahe! Kay re Nayana (we will come back to this character called Nayan later) toilet madhe rahaycha ka aamhi!” For all those who didn’t understand the reference, we all are from Mumbai, and here in Mumbai the Municipal Corporation installs these kinds of portable toilet cabins at public places whenever there is some sort of citywide ceremony and hordes of people visit the city.